Tips & Sips: George Dickel Tennessee Whisky
Sipping a whisky in the comfort of my home is ideal. Sipping a whisky in the comfort of my home now knowing the people and the storied history behind the glass changes the game. That sip warms in a whole new way; rich with feeling and flavor.
Thanks to the folks at George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, I had the pleasure of visiting and spending some time at its scenic birthplace: Cascade Hollow. I was a bit under the weather, but I refused to let that stop me from experiencing what I came to learn was much more than whisky. What makes me argumentatively a "bad blogger" is my ability to be in the pulse of the moment (good) while the art of capturing those moments by a device becomes absent (bad). However, in this case, as it is proven time and time again, all was just fine. George Dickel and the process in which their spirit is crafted is all about time and savoring it. See, they embrace the patience and integrity required to handcraft a whisky from start to finish. They live in each moment of the distilling process and have maintained this labor of love for more than 140 years. Their Handmade the hard way is unlike any other distillery in Tennessee. People, what I would consider Dickel's metaphoric main ingredient, establish the spirit in the spirit.
If you haven't noticed yet, in an ode to George, I am honoring George Dickel's Scottish spelling of whisky throughout this post. Many of us Americans follow the Irish spelling sneaking in an "e" ("whiskey") It is just one of the many tidbits I learned on my adventure. When planning your next getaway, consider carving out a spot on your calendar for Cascade Hollow. It will not leave you disappointed. To wet your taste buds a bit more, I leave you with these five discoveries from my time with the George Dickel family.
Off the beaten path
Cascade Hollow is about an hour and 15 minute drive from downtown Nashville, an hour and 30 minute drive from Chattanooga, and about a 20 minute drive from Lynchburg. This may deter you from a visit, do not let it. This place is an oasis in southern Tennessee. Located off the beaten path not only plays into the foundations of George Dickel, it's where its rooted charm thrives. You will arrive to spotted cell phone service; do not panic. I repeat, do not panic. That dreaded "No Service" on your phone is a sign it is time to redirect your attention. And, the simplistic beauty of Cascade Hollow and its surroundings deserve your full attention. One of those beauties is the subtle stream outside the distillery. It flowed when the distillery was built in 1878 and still flows today. Think of the stories that stream can tell and all the whiskies it has graduated to bottling. Comfortable, close-toed shoes are required for the distillery tour, but you will want them for exploring the full grounds, from the gift shop to the distillery to the warehouse. Time slows down a bit in Cascade Hollow and you owe it to yourself to slow down right along with it.
Whisky vs. Bourbon
My last Tips & Sips post, recounted my husband and I's journey through the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. When initially telling folks I was heading on another whisky trip, the first question was... well it was what are you wearing? But, a very close second was what is the difference between Tennessee whisky and bourbon? This information is some of the first you'll learn on tour. It really boils down to after the spirit is distilled. George Dickel slowly filters its whisky through sugar-maple charcoal. The goal here is to mellow out the whisky. Of course, there are other smaller variances, but that is the heavy hitter. Let's keep going down this technical path, shall we? Let's face it, this is all knowledge you can you use one day at a dinner party or night out to really impress someone. Take notes. All George Dickel whiskies are 84% corn, 8% rye, 8% malted barley except for the Rye Whisky which is mostly rye, 95% to be exact and 5% malted barley. Our group sampled all the varieties including the special George Dickel 17-Year-Old Reserve, only available at Cascade Hollow. My favorite, however, was not the oldest whisky to attend the party.
My recommendation: No. 12.
A kick of spice is what I love when it comes to my preferred whiskies. So naturally, during the tasting I was certain the Geroge Dickel Rye Whisky would be the reigning champ of my taste buds. Surprisingly, I gravitated toward George Dickel Superior No. 12 Whisky. It finished nicely on my tongue with a hint of smokiness which satisfied my spice liking. In a discussion with Brian (who will be introduced in a bit), George Dickel Classic No. 8 Whisky is a great team player when it comes to whisky cocktails. This is the second whisky we sampled after the George Dickel No. 1 Whiksy, the foundation of the whiskies to follow. The No.8 is balanced and light with its notes; therefore, allowing its mixers to shine through as well. No. 12, however, prefers to stand alone. It has a strong depth to its flavor encompassing some sweet from the sugar maple and bold heat. It is important to note, everyone's palate is different. During the tasting, intermixed with writers, journalists, entrepreneurs, musicians, whisky enthusiasts and bloggers, reactions were as varied as the distance we traveled to Cascade Hollow. This is what makes whisky such a personal relationship. This is what I love about whisky. Everyone has their own experience, their own highlighted taste. We all could agree, however, regardless of what flavors were being pulled, they were distinct.
Ask for Brian.
The term "expert" can be tricky. Sometimes those who reach this title tend to lack the ability to connect with those not as knowledgeable with their field. To me, a true expert is one who can communicate their expertise seamlessly and elevates the knowledge of those around him or her. Brian Downing is a true expert. Officially, he is the Brand Ambassador for George Dickel, but I will forever know him as my whisky Yoda. His connection and knowledge with whisky, particularly George Dickel, is a true force. Brian led us through the distillery enlightening along the way. From burning sugar maple trees in open air (an old-fashion tradition still embraced at Cascade Hollow) to collect the charcoal necessary to mellow the whisky to tipping your glass to the side to determine density and how long it will linger on the palate to reminding us that whisky is about people and there is "nothing else that smells as good as a whisky warehouse," Brian left no detail behind. His information was equal parts technical and romantic. When you visit Cascade Hollow, ask for Brian. I will not guarantee he is there, but if you are lucky enough to time up a visit with him, you are in for a treat.
George Dickel connected with me on so many levels, with the true surprise coming in the form of the gift shop right before we settled in for the tasting paired with live, soulful music by Adam Craig and Michael Ray. The gift shop avoided the cheesy, tourist feel due to its history and layout. No fret though; there are plenty of engraved glasses, quirky t-shirts and the best bourbon candle you will ever smell. Tip - purchase it, purchase at least three; your home will thank you and there is a glass inside the candle. This building was once a post office. In true George Dickel fashion, they preserved this legacy. Venture to the far corner of the gift shop and you will find original mail slots with the authentic owners' names still taped below claiming their space. Gently placed within these mail slots are post cards. I sat down, Tennessee Julep (George Dickel No. 12, lime, Amaro, and mint - a small check off the bucket list) in hand, and wrote a post card to my football coach of a husband praising him for his grind this season. I was in heaven; sitting at a desk face to face with the timeless tradition of the handwritten note. It was an unexpected slice of a moment, but as Brian noted in the tour early "whisky is about people." Make sure to have a seat among those mail slots and write to someone. The folks at George Dickel will then happily send it for you. It wasn't what you planned to do at a whisky distillery, but then again George Dickel is unlike any other whisky in Tennessee.
George Dickel is about flavorful, rooted-in-tradition whisky. They are about the people behind the glass and those who choose to enjoy it. I raise my glass to you, George Dickel, Handmade the Hard Way proved to be the right way.
It is never more appropriate than it is today...
A resounding thank you to the folks at George Dickel for inviting me into their home and out n' about in Nashville.
Please know, however, the above is nothing but my own thoughts, my own opinion.